A UAE-based Indian couple’s efforts and perseverance at elevating the conditions of girl’s government school in Kozhikode cty, Kerala, India has paid rich dividends catapulting it to the top 2 government schools in the country by the Education World (EW) India School Rankings in 2019-2020. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A UAE-based Indian couple’s efforts to elevate the standard of a girl’s government school in Kozhikode of India’s Kerala has paid rich dividends, with the local government now set to implement its exemplary model across 141 government schools in the state benefitting 300,000 students.

The Nadakkavu Government Vocational Higher Secondary School (GVHSS) for Girls, now a flagbearer of excellence in education in India with a focus on the holistic development of students, has also been ranked as the No. 2 government school in the country in the Education World (EW) India School Rankings in 2019-2020. EW, India, is the world’s largest survey of primary-secondary schools with scores based on interviews with parents, senior school students, principals and teachers. The schools are evaluated on 14 different categories.

A once-crumbling school, the 120-year-old GVHSS underwent an infrastructural transformation in 2015 with funds from UAE based Faizal and Shabana Foundation, the philanthropy arm of KEF holdings, a Dubai-based company. The school is run by Faizal and Shabana Kottikolon, co-founders of the foundation.

Faizal, founder and chairman of KEF Holdings, said: “The top ranking for Nadakkavu school is a true testament to the success of our foundation’s vision, ‘Giving to Create Impact’. Our goal is to drive the positive transformation of government – and private – schools through an integrated and participatory approach. We are honoured to have created this benchmark of excellence for education in India. We will continue to drive our education engagement initiatives across the country as well as in other nations.”

How it all began

As Faizal said, “It all started with an interview where someone asked me what I thought India needed to do to change the face of public education. I realised dilapidated infrastructure was the first thing that needed change. Poor conditions not only lowered self-esteem of children but was the main cause of absenteeism and high dropout rate. So in collaboration with Pradeep Kumar, a local legislator, we began our work. When we arrived at this school the first time in 2014, we saw the structure was dilapidated. The building housed classes for 2,400 girls, but had only eight toilets. The mid-day meals were not providing enough nutrition and teachers were qualified but had no upgrading of skills programme.”

Pradeep Kumar, who had founded Prism (Promoting Regionals Schools to International Standards through Multiple Interventions) was planning to utilise a portion of the development funds granted to local legislators – in this case around Rs10 million (around Dh561,445) – to repair the crumbling school.

The Kottikolon’s invited the Indian Institute of Managemnt (IIM) Calicut to conduct research into why students were not inspired to study despite free education and free meals along with well qualified teachers. Armed with research and feedback on what was required and with consultation from iternational architects from Denmark and UK, the school underwent the transformation.

Faizal said: “We did not want to disrupt the school for a single day and undertook the project during the summer vacations, completing it in 95 days, Old walls were pulled down, new ones designed, toilets built and teachers imparted training through IIM Calicut. Suddenly the self-confidence of students and teachers went up manifold when the school reopened for the new academic year in 2015.

New look

New structures at the school included a 132,000-sq ft landscaped garden, a library with around 25,000 books and an 18,110-sq-ft astro-turf multipurpose playing field for athletics, football and hockey. A new sports complex with a 13,000-sq-ft indoor stadium, wood-floored basketball and badminton courts, and spacious changing and locker rooms for students were also built.

Learning became fun and interactive as the classrooms were digitally equipped. Students took pride in carrying out experiments in modern laboratories for physics, chemistry and botany. Sanity and hygiene went up several notches with the construction of 92 spotless toilets, a corporate-style kitchen and dining hall that could seat about 600 students at a time.

In an economically empowering experiment, village women found employment cooking at the school kitchen providing healthy, wholesome meals to the students and earning a modest income.

All this brought about a dramatic turnaround of the average performance of the students as results indicated. In the 2015 board examinations, every student who took the exam passed, with 21 out of 393 students securing A+ (above 92 per cent) in all subjects – a 400 per cent increase in A+ grades since 2012.


The school has become the pride of Calicut and a central hub for the community, said Faizal. The facilities are utilised for a fee by the community. The entire neighbourhood uses the school grounds for morning walks and yoga camps during the weekends. The modern stadium and playgrounds are also leased out for community functions.

Shabana, co-founder of the foundation, and vice chairperson of KEF Holdings, said: “Since the inception of the foundation over 10 years ago, our single-minded focus was on driving social impact through our programmes. We are privileged to undertake the opportunity to support this school with a history of over 120 years, and to transform it into one of India’s leading schools. More importantly, we see incremental value from this transformation. All our students benefit from high-quality education, delivered by a team of committed teachers. We see these students evolving as well-rounded individuals who can contribute incredible value to the society.”

What the students say

Ayina P.P: Class 12, studying in Nadakkavu school since 5th std (2013)

“I am from a middle class family. I came here in 5th std and that time there was a small canteen and buildings were not clean. Then suddenly things changed, though I didn’t understand that time what happened, today I know the effort it took.

“One important feeling I have is in this school we are asked to decide for ourselves and this has made me responsible and confident about taking decisions, making mistakes and still believing in myself. I am happy to be part of this school and this has changed my outlook in life.”

Neehara E: Class 12, studying in Nadakkavu school since 5th std (2013)

“The school gives us opportunities to grow and develop ideas on our own. Shiju sir my present teacher pushes me to present speeches, thoughts for the day which helps me develop my skills. I feel more confident and my efficiency has grown over the years, My dream is to become an entrepreneur and I would like to study at IIMK. My personal life too has become positive because of this school.”

Suhina Cherott: studied at Nadakkavu from 2010- 2012 and is now a health care technician planning to do her PhD

“Earlier, when I was studying, the school was in a bad condition. When I passed out, the sudden change happened. I wish I had been there during this change.”